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EXECUTION OF WOODGATE.

[Mai'lljcrough Press.] It will bo in the recollection of all our readers that, ab the last silting o the Supreme Court at Blenheim, W H. Woodgato was sentenced to death for Uie ninrder of his illegitimate child, the mother of which was his niece. At the trial a point of Jaw was reserved in the prisoner's favour, and this was argued before the Court of Appeal in Christohurch, on the 12ili inst., when the decision of the Court below was uphold, and the sentence confirmed. When it became known that the sentence was confirmed a petition was got up and numerously signed, for presentation to the Governor, praying that the sentence of death might be com- : muted, Before this was pi'esented a communication was received by the Sheriff, in which he was informed that ! the sentence of the law would be carried out. As this information was received prior to the presentation of the petition the friends of the doomed man did not give up all hope, but waited anxiously 1 for a reply tc the petition. lv clue 1 time it came, and was anything but favourable, and this caused another [ attempt to be made to obtain a com- [ mutation of tho sentence The Minis- . ter of Justice was waited upon person- , ally, and the tenor of his reply was made known in Picton on Saturday < last. It destroyed any hope that may j, have remained, and prepared the [ I people for the end that so soon was to cotncj and when it was announced j that the execution of the prisoner was r i to take placo on Wednesday morning, I it caused a dull feeing of pain, unmixed 1 with surprise, as it was felt that all ' attempts at intervention would be [ unavailing. Had the prisoner boon a s stranger, and about to suffer for a i ciimc. such as sometimes outrages I j humanity, the feeling would have been 3 altogether different, but he was a man ' well known, and, previous to the ' : committal of the offence for which he } was about to suffer the extreme penalty . of the law, was thought to be a hard working, as he was known to be a hospitable man. The circumstances surrounding the case made his position seem the harder, and it would have been difficult to find any persons charged with a similar crime who ! would have received so much sympathy > from the people in the district. Tlje i offence was partly forgotten in the 1 thought of the penalty about to be ■ % exacted, and, while all coudemued the crime, many there Were who had a strong feeling of sympathy for the j perpetrator. It could hardly be expected to be otherwise in a place where every man is known to his neighbours, and the feeling may be excused in consideratiqn of the expatiation grave offenders offer to the laws they have oiicragad, The prisoner Woodgate v/as, during his incarceration in gaol never deceived. Although he was aware that a point of •law was reserved in his favour, he was always advised to prepare for the

worst, and when he knew that the ! \ people were preparing a petition iv his ' f favour, he was counselled that it would ; ] be of littlo avail, aud that he should ' build no hopes on it, bub use the littlo I time allotted him on earth to arrange i his worldly affairs and prepare for the great change awaiting him. From the first he visibly broke down in spirits and constitution, and as ths time approached when he was to suffer, his prostration became extreme. During the last few clays he was visited by his children and such friends as he wished to see, and these meetings, us may be expected, were distressingly painful, lie saw the last of his relations on Monday, and from that time was left to his meditations, attended only by the officials, the Yen. Archdeacon Butt, and the Rev Win. Ronnldson, who had been most assiduous iv his ministrations to the dying man. On Monday, the work of erecting the scaffold was begun, and the sound of the building must have borne a suggestive significance to the prisoner, who was confined only a few feet from where the work was going on. The scaffold was erected within the gaol yard, on the eastern side, quite out of sight of casual spectators ; and had it not been known that a tragedy was about to be enacted within, there was nothing to cause attention to be directed to the gaol. (Jn Tuesday a man came in the brain from Blenheim, and openly stated that he had been engaged as hangman on Wednesday morning. Coming on such a mission he was not likely to be very well received, aad when he found that his shipmates and others refused to associate with him , he altered his mind and left again for Blenheim by the afternoon train, and positively declined to act as executioner. It had been reported previously that several persons had made application to the Sheriff for the appointment of executioner, and it was not anticipated that the refusal of one man to perform the office would lead to any delay in the sentence of the law being duly earned out. It created a difficulty, however, and the Sheriff attempted to obtain the services of an executioner from Wellington, but was unsuccessful, although telegraphic communication was kept up with Wellington until after midnight an Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, the time appointed for the execution, several persons had made preparations to leave the place until the execution was over and the body disposed of, but it became known before the hour h'xed that an unexpected difficulty had occurred, and that no person could be found willing to undertake the duty of executioner. As time went on and the hour for the execution arrived, it was seen that no preparations were being made, and as the Shei'iff left by the morning train for Blenheim, it was known that the execution had been postponed, at all events for the time Such a complication had never been known before, and many surmises were hazarded as to the course that would be pursued under the circumstances. The warrant to the Sheriff empowers and obliges him to see that the sentence of the law is executed within a certain time, but if from any unforseen obstacle it is found impossible to carry it into effect, the design ot the law is not thereby frustrated, and it is in the power of the Governor to issue a fresh warrant to enable the sentence to be carried ont. It was nob known when the time allowed by the warrant in this case expired, and it was equally uncertain whether the warrant would have to be amended, or whether it would be possible to have the execution within the time allowed by the warrant that had been received. Whichever way it was to be, it was fell that the mental anxiety suffered by the condemned man, added to the horror of his position, and the suspense he endured, was a refinement of cruelty never contemplated or intended to be inflicted. " The sense of death is most in apprehension," and when he was informed that he was to die at a certain hour, and that hour having passed and he still having the knowledge that at some other time, immediate or remote, he would be sailed upon to give up his life, he must have suffered the agony of death many times. He was quite passive and resigned, and as he was prepared to die, the postponement of the execution caused a painful suspense in his mind, worse than he previously had in the expectation of death. When the steamer arrived from Nelson on Saturday evening, it soon became rumoured that there was a person on board who had come to perform the duty of executioner, but this did not prove to be correct, and the office of hangman was undertaken by a man who came from Blenheim, but still it was not known when the execution would take place. Everything] was arranged quietly; the first intimation prisoner had that the executioner had arrived, and thab he must go forth to death, was given him when he was awakened out of a sound sleep about four o'clock oa Thursday morning, aud it created a feeling of surprise | when it became known that the execution had taken place at half-past six o'clock. It is usual for the general public to be represented when such sentences of the laV are carried out, but in this instance none were present except the officials and the clergyman. Shortly before the minute of the execution the person of the condemned man was given into the custody of the Sheriff, and was pinioned by the hangman. He appeared quite resigned, ai.d was calm and quiet, He

walked to tin; scaffold with a firm step, and addressed a few words to the present, thanking the gaoler and the wardens for their kindness and attention to him while in prison, and stated that he freely forgave all those who were concerned in his trial. The rope was (ixed round his neck and the white cap drawn over his head, while the Rev Mr Ronaldson read the solemn and bountiful service of the burial of the dead. When this was concluded the bolt was drawn, the prisoner fell with a dull thud, and in a few minutes what had so recently been a bivatbing animate body was a mass of li I'd ess clay. There was no struggle, but only a convulsive movement of the limbs, and the body hung suspended, a memorial of the eff-cts of crime and the retribution the law exacts from great offenders. After hanging the usual time the body was cut down and placed in a cell, there to await the Coroner's inquest. At eleven o'clock a formal inquiry was held by J. Allen, Esq., Coroner, and a jury of twelve, when evidence was given, ami v verdict returned, that William Henry Woodgate had come to his death in accordance with a sentence of law. This was the last act but one, and during the evening the body was deposited in a grave dug for him within the precincts of the gaol. Previous to the execution Woodgate spoke to the Rev W. Ronaldson about the many acts of kindness shown him by the people in Picfcon, and he requested Mr Ronaldson to thank the people on his behalf for the efforts they made to obtain a commutation of i his sentence. Ec expressed himself specially grateful to Mr Seymour for the consideration he had shown him, and to many others who had in various ways alleviated the unpleasantness of his position. As is usual in such cases, many rumours were circulated about confessions the prisoner had made, but they were only rumours, and had no foundation in truth. With a full knowledge of his position, knowing that within a few hours the opinions of thft people would nob affect him, as he was on the narrow boundary between life and death, he did not make any material statement, and if he was guilty, he carried the secret of his guilt with him.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/WC18770205.2.14

Bibliographic details

EXECUTION OF WOODGATE., Wanganui Chronicle, Volume XX, Issue 3287, 5 February 1877

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EXECUTION OF WOODGATE. Wanganui Chronicle, Volume XX, Issue 3287, 5 February 1877

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